Success story

Nonprofits have to fight harder for funds due to a shrinking economy, but effective storytelling is still the most important tool for any organization trying to make a difference, such as The Case Foundation.

Success story

Nonprofits have to fight harder for funds due to a shrinking economy, but effective storytelling is still the most important tool for the success of any organization trying to make a difference. 

The story was riveting, spine-tingling, tragic, and finally, hopeful. It was a story of bad luck and wrong choices that led to homeless shelters, humiliation, and shame. And then it was a story of a chance meeting, a helping hand, and in the end, the salvation of a woman, her daughter, and their now-solid footing in life.

Lisa Ross, EVP, specialized communications at Ogilvy PR, recently recalled that inspirational speech from three years ago at the Washington Area Women's Foundation luncheon, clearly still moved by the story.  

By the end of the program, crumpled, tear-stained napkins and baskets brimming with donations were all that was left on tables, setting a new bar for fundraising.

Ross recalled that tale to illustrate that while much has changed in the world of public relations, nonprofits, and fundraising, the story and the art of storytelling still dictate the path to success.

Beyond that, industry experts say much has changed, particularly the increased sophistication and metrics employed by the nonprofit sector, driven by the explosion in social media tools, the abysmal economy, and the need to cut through the do-good clutter with 1.5 million NGOs in the US competing for attention and dollars.

Edelman, which for five years has conducted its goodpurpose survey, found that between 2010 and 2012, the percentage of consumers in the US involved in a cause fell to 53% from 60%, the only country of 16 surveyed to show a drop.

Significant opportunity
“The tension of this paradox spells significant opportunity for US marketers,” says Carol Cone, global practice chair of business and social purpose at Edelman. “While US consumers currently have less time and money to put toward societal issues, they still feel responsible to help.”

“That world is becoming more sophisticated about strategy, so you can be crisp and clear in everything you do,” adds Cone. “I call it the head, heart, and hands strategy and it's very simple, important, and the most innovative way nonprofits are positioning themselves and then creating relationships.”

The head represents the strategic core and focus; the heart standing for something bigger than yourself; and hands signify engagement with a 360-degree approach.

The concept has helped move those seeking funds to view their stakeholders as relationships, not just transactions.

With storytelling remaining a critical element to engaging stakeholders in the nonprofit space, social media is an effective and cost effective way to get the message out.

“What we have seen and experienced over the past couple of years is social media is the best friend you're ever going to have,” says Ross. “Whether you have generous or limited resources, efficiency is so critical, particularly in this current tough economic environment.

“The competition for funds is fierce. People have less to give, but the needs are rising every day, so you have to be efficient and social media allows you to do that in a very intimate manner that is compelling, cost efficient, quick, and direct. That's the beauty of social media.”

Marian Salzman, CEO of PR operations for Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America, who works pro bono for the Woodruff Foundation, a nonprofit that supports all injured service members on their return home, says people should not feel overwhelmed by social media.

“People know about Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, but there are others too such as Vimeo, Tumblr, Spotify, LinkedIn, and more. Each is different and each has its own way of sharing and interacting, but none of them have to take a lot of time,” Salzman explains.

“Experiment and don't be afraid to fail,” she adds.

Nicky Goren, president and CEO of the Washington Area Women's Foundation, which works with Ogilvy, says while you can never replace face-to-face meetings with stakeholders, social media has allowed them to connect with parties and communicate their mission.

(l-r) Nicky Goren and Fabian Rosado joined Renee Scarlet (center) on her commute for the Walk in Their Shoes program.

For instance, Goren recently engaged in a Walk in Their Shoes program where she, alongside Vehicles for Change board member Fabián Rosado, joined Renee Scarlet on her morning commute.

Scarlet was able to demonstrate how difficult her journey was and, in the end, with help from the organization she was able to purchase a van to ease her commute.

“We put video and photo montages together and pushed it out via social media,” says Goren. “We saw it as a way to help people understand our mission in a real way.” In another endeavor, the organization banded together with five other like-minded groups attracting national funds and a partnership with Walmart's Global Women's Economic Empowerment Initiative, with the goal of helping women in low-income households.

In the end, a consortium of the women's groups – called the Partnership for Women's Prosperity – was awarded a grant of $3.4 million, which will help about 5,000 economically vulnerable girls and women in 16 communities.

Goren says she is already realizing the upside of collaborating with similar organizations.

“While all of us share a common mission, our collective experience has taught us that closing the prosperity gap demands that we address unique issues facing the communities we serve. It is not a one-size-fits-all proposition,” she explains.

Camino PR planned to reach multiple audiences with its National HIV Awareness Month campaign.
Strategic planning
In July, Camino PR, which handled crisis communications for Planned Parenthood when the Susan G. Komen Foundation made plans to change funding parameters, was also busy building recognition for National HIV Awareness Month and reminding people it is still an issue in the US and globally.

“The challenge from the start was trying to find an entry point to connect,” says Andrea Hagelgans, VP, strategic communication and media at Camino.

“After we got people engaged, we gave them an action, which was signing the petition, but we took pains to reach out to our audience with multiple touchpoints.”

For instance, one day messaging was targeted at people interested in policy discussions. Another day, it focused on advances in medical treatments, or the emotional stories of those living with HIV.

“Each day, we found a different story from that larger framework and we gave people an opportunity to engage in a different way,” says Camino PR creative director, Pablo Toledo.

“The surprise was the international response when we looked at the tags of the 30,000 people who signed the petition.”

One other area of change is the opportunity to reach out to freelance philanthropists, who are individuals that engage their passions in a cause of their choice.

Tapping into the Latino donor market

As America continues to see significant shifts in demographic makeup, it presents myriad opportunities for nonprofits to tap into some overlooked sources of active, ongoing givers including Latinos. These efforts are particularly necessary as nonprofits see their current donor rolls of aging baby boomers dwindle.

Early this year the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) released findings from a new report “Cultures of Giving: Energizing and Expanding Philanthropy by and for Communities of Color” that shows how the face of charity is changing.

The study revealed that 63% of Latino households make charitable donations and blacks give away 25% more of their annual income than whites. And yet, due to individual histories and current stories, reaching Latinos presents both tremendous opportunities and challenges.

For instance, older Latinos, many of whom are immigrants, have ingrained habits of giving to their churches and families back home. Then there is the 1.5 Generation, those Hispanics who came here as children but have spent their formative years in the US, and finally, second-generation English-first Hispanics with less of a connection to their family's country of origin, whether it be Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Argentina, or the Dominican Republic.

There are several points for nonprofits and their agencies to keep in mind when engaging Hispanics:

  • Invest in understanding and relating to the larger Hispanic market, including staffing and creating leadership opportunities for Latinos, particularly young Latinos.
  • There is likely an existing donor base of Hispanics already giving to your organization. Tap into those donors to help you reach new ones.
  • If you want to tap into a younger base, go digital all the way. Park your cause where Hispanics already exist, including the social, mobile, and digital world.

José Villa, president and CEO of Sensis Agency, adds: “The path forward to a more diverse donor and constituent base is not a simple, quick fix. Long-term problems require long-term solutions and commitments. However, the upside and ROI are there.”

Several organizations, including the Case Foundation, endeavor to equip freelancers and other small nonprofit groups to leverage the tools of the trade.

Allyson Burns, VP of communications and marketing at Case, says earlier this year the foundation's team members engaged in a messaging exercise that eventually led it to refocus, leading to the launch of its Be Fearless campaign.

As Case Foundation cofounder Jean Case notes, “The easy road in any undertaking is to set comfortable, realistic goals,” and the group set out to change that.

Be Fearless is meant to inspire a no-holds-barred way of approaching social change and rests on five values: make big bets and make big history; experiment early and often; make failure matter, learn from it; reach beyond your bubble; and, finally, let urgency conquer fear, so don't overthink and don't overanalyze.

The foundation also has a Be Fearless microsite with an array of tools for the freelance do-gooder and small nonprofit struggling with resources to tell their stories. The site includes an area where consumers can take 101 online tutorials on strategy, Facebook, video and photography, blogging, and emerging technologies with links to deeper resources on each topic.

Burns adds, “We were absolutely delighted to see how it took off. Once we gave them the entry points, they carried the conversation forward. People were ready to have this discussion.”

Fresh ideas
In the same spirit Ogilvy Washington launched Ogilvy Connect, providing communications training to community-based nonprofits in the DC area. Led by rising leaders at the firm, the program's curriculum will offer communications knowledge, tools, and resources to help these organizations better fulfill their missions. 

“The interesting thing is this was conceived by our up-and-coming folks,” says Ross of Ogilvy. “They came to people like me who have been working in this space for a long time and really they developed the curriculum.”

Prospective students must go through an application and approval process. The course provides training in branding, developing a communications plan, tactical execution, and fundraising through storytelling.

“The idea of developing a plan, or even realizing you need a plan, is somewhat unknown to some of these budding philanthropists,” adds Ross.

Audrey Sylvia, director, Cone Communications, says the market is saturated, but not satiated. For instance, her firm was recently involved in an awareness campaign for Rethink Breast Cancer.

“Certainly breast cancer is not a new issue, but we're taking a different approach, one laced with humor, along the lines of  ‘if men had breasts, they would really appreciate them – why don't we?'”

“We're learning to not sugarcoat, people can handle the tough issues and the tough causes,” adds Sylvia.

Campaign gets merit badge in leadership
All the US women who have gone into space are former Girl Scouts. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was a Girl Scout as was one of her predecessors, Condoleezza Rice.

“Yes, they do cookies and yes they do badges,” says Carol Cone, global practice chair of business and social purpose at Edelman, “but that all contributes to the core of what they do, which is create leaders.”  

The Girl Scouts worked closely with Edelman to launch the ToGetHerThere campaign targeting women and girls with the overarching goal of creating more gender-balanced leadership in a generation.

“We know it's going to take years to achieve, but we also know we can change expectations for girls in the next year, and we have already started doing that with this campaign,” says Cone.  

TV advertisements showing Girl Scouts in various leadership roles were released, along with radio, print, and outdoor advertisements.
The Girl Scouts' multiyear campaign, ToGetHerThere, launched in January 2012. The campaign is designed to leverage the Girl Scouts' 100th anniversary as an important milestone, but also create lasting change for the Girl Scouts, its councils, members, and society.

Edelman developed a strategy to build a unique, standalone cause brand for the Girl Scouts focusing on an issue critical to its mission but, more importantly, an issue of major relevance.

Positioning Girl Souts, the largest organization for girls in this country, as part of a solution to a larger prob-lem would increase the brand's relevance, exposure, and engagement with new audiences.

Extensive research con-ducted in partnership with GfK Roper helped frame the role of the Girl Scouts. 

The study, based on a telephone survey of 1,000 girls aged 8 to 17, found that close to three in five girls think a woman can rise up in a company, but will rarely be put in a senior leadership role. More than one-third say they would not feel comfortable trying to be a leader, while almost 40% are not sure if they are cut out to be a leader.

PSAs were created for print, outdoor advertising, radio, and TV, in English and Spanish. Edelman created a new website,, and a digital and social media strategy across YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. The site received more than 20,000 unique visitors within two days, with a 90% conversion rate. In a pilot program, the agency partnered with crowdsourcing company Poptent to create two video PSAs.

Edelman also provided multicultural media outreach and press materials.

The Girl Scouts discussed courage on ABC's Good Morning America
Media relations led to an eight-minute feature piece on launch day of the campaign on ABC's Good Morning America, featuring troops of girls expressing how Girl Scouts has given them the courage to lead. Stories were featured in The New York Times, Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal and USA Today, among others nationwide. 

ToGetHerThere was also featured at Fast Company's annual Innovation Uncensored Conference, showcasing breakthrough innovations in brand marketing and social media.

A TimesCenter launch panel discussion on January 31 was moderated by Deborah Roberts from ABC's 20/20, featuring leaders from sectors including finance and media. A February 1 event in Washington, DC, with 25 members of Congress included Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA); Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas).

The Washington, DC, panel was covered by many outlets including CNN, MSNBC, and Bloomberg. Nancy Pelosi remarked on the “cleverness” of the play-on-words the ToGetHerThere cause name evokes.

“If you invest in women, they invest back,” Cone says. “The quest became how do we add some Miracle-Gro to all these girls because we know girls can stop raising their hand at 12, 13, and 14 and become more inward. We want to elevate this to be an important cause.”

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